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Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Lagomorpha / Leporidae / Oryctolagus / Species

Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further details)

Click Photo for full-page view Click Photo for full-page view Click Photo for full-page view A three week old European rabbit Three week old European rabbit in Cheshire European rabbit European rabbit grassland Fleeing European rabbits European rabbit in vegetation European rabbit back European rabbit vigilant European rabbit and domestic cat European rabbit damage European rabbit burrow Roadkill European rabbit Joung rabbit kit. Click here for full page view with caption Young rabbit kit. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit incisors and peg teeth. Click here for full page view with caption Ear of a rabbit - bllod vessels visible. Click here for full page view with caption Fur-covered soles of the forefeet. Click here for full page view with caption Fur-covered soles of the hind feet. Click here for full page view with caption Moulting. Click here for full page view with caption Moulting. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit faeces. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit caecotrophs. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit skeleton. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit skull. Click here for full page view with caption

INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Altweltliches Kaninchen (German)
  • Coinean (Scottish Gaelic)
  • Coinín (Irish Gaelic)
  • Coney
  • Cwningen (Welsh)
  • Domestic rabbit
  • Europäisches Wildkaninchen (German)
  • Lapin de garenne (French)
  • Old World rabbit. (B285.w5c)
  • Rabbit
  • Oryctolagus fodiens. (B607.w20)
  • Oryctolagus kreyenbergi. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus vermicula [nomen nudum]. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus vernicularis [nomen nudum]. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus brachyotus. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cnossius. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cnossus. (B605.7.w7)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus. (B605.7.w7)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus habetensis. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus oreas. (B607.w20)

  • Unassigned: borkumensis; campestris; nigripes. (B607.w20)

  • Oryctolagus means "burrowing hare" and cuniculus means "underground passage" in latin. (B612.8.w8)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Kitten (B285.w5b)

Names for males

Buck. (B605.7.w7)

Names for females

Doe. (B605.7.w7)

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General Appearance

Adult: Typical lagomorph: long hind legs, long ears, very short tail (B142, D30).

  • It should be noted that some of the domesticated forms have an extremely different appearance to the original wild stock of this species. (B147)
  • Generally smaller in size than the other European leporids, with relatively shorter ears. It does not have black tipped ears, and the underside of the tail is white. (B605.7.w7)
  • Resembles the American cottontails (Sylvilagus sp..). (B605.7.w7)

Newborn: Naked at birth, eyes closed, deaf, helpless (B52, B144, B147, B148).

Similar Species

Smaller than either Lepus timidus - Mountain hare or Lepus europaeus - Brown hare  with compact body, relatively shorter hind legs, shorter head, shorter ears (do not reach nose tip if pressed forward over face) without distinct black tips (B142, B148, D30)

Sexual Dimorphism

Males usually heavier. Females head narrower, ear-to-nose profile slightly less rounded than males (B142)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Author: Kathryn Pintus BSc MSc MSc (V.w115)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • --

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Notes

LENGTH
Adult: 
15-20 in./ 38-50 cm (B52, B144); 35-45 cm (B147); up to 40 cm (B142, D30); 38-50 cm. (B285.w5c)

  • Tail length: 4.5-7.5 cm (B285.w5c); 40-70 mm. (B147)
  • Hind foot length: 8.5-11 cm. (B285.w5c)
  • Ear length: 6.5-8.5 cm. (B285.w5c)


Newborns:

  • Females: Nose to tail average of 117.70 mm (se = 1.181, Sample size =40). (B287)
  • Males: Nose to tail average of 119.07 mm (se = 0.964, Sample size = 55). (B287)

HEIGHT
Adults and sub-adults: --
Juveniles: --

WEIGHT
Adult: 
32-71 oz./ 900-2000 g (B144); 1,350-2,250 g (B147); 1.2-2.0 kg (B142); 1.5-3.0 kg. (B285.w5c)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus: maximum 2 kg. (B605.7.w7)
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi: maximum 1 kg. (B605.7.w7)
  • Note: Domestic rabbits vary greatly in weight from the small Dwarf Polish or Dutch breeds at only 1 kg to the Flemish Giant which can reach up to 7 kg. (B612.8.w8)
    • Some of the domesticated forms bred for meat may weigh as much as 7.25 kg. (B147)

Newborns: 40-50 g (B147), 40-45 g (B52, B285.w5c); 30-35 g (B142)

  • Newborns weigh between 30 and 45 g. (B287)
  • Embryos weighed at 30 and 31 days gestation have been known to weigh more than 45 g. (B287)
  • Newborn females are reported to have an average weight of 35.23 g (se = 1.140; Sample size = 40), with newborn males being slightly heavier on average at 36.99 g (se = 0.0833, Sample size = 55). (B287)
  • Weaning mass: Reported to be between 175 and 221 g. (B287)

GROWTH RATE

  • By 21 days (weaning): to 150-200 g (B142).
  • Weaning to 1kg: about 10 g a day (B142).

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Head and Neck

Notes

Rabbit incisors and peg teeth. Click here for full page view with caption Ear of a rabbit - bllod vessels visible. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit skull. Click here for full page view with caption

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:

  • Ears: grey or grey brown with few black hairs. No black tip. Long, but do not reach nose tip if pressed forwards (B148). Length 2.6-3.2 in./65-80 mm (B52, B144, B148), 65-75 mm (B142).
  • The pinnae are made up of elastic cartilage covered by a thin layer of skin. They make up about 12% of the total external body surface of the rabbit. (B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)
  • The pinnae are freely movable, capable of independent action. (B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)
  • The ear canal is separated from a blind-ended diverticulum by the tragus, a cartilaginous ridge. (B612.8.w8)
  • The skin contains large sebaceous glands. (B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)
  • The peripheral veins and a central artery are clearly visible in the ears. When heated, large arterivenous shunts come into use. (B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)

Neck:

  • A pendulous skin fold known as the dewlap is found on the neck. This is generally more pronounced in females and is larger in some breeds than in others. (B600.1.w1, B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)
    • Note: The dewlap is prone to wet dermatitis. (B612.8.w8, B614.3.w3)

Eyes

  • These are placed laterally on the head, providing a wide field of view including a small area of binocular vision to the rear of the rabbit. (B614.3.w3)
  • During sleep or anaesthesia, the eye is covered by a well-developed third eyelid. (B612.8.w8)

Newborn: Deaf. (B52, B144, B147, B148)

DENTITION:
Adult: 

  • Lagomorphs differ from rodents by having two pairs of upper incisors rather than just the one. The additional teeth are called peg teeth and sit behind the long, constantly growing pair, in the upper jaw. (B147, B285.w5a)
  • Lagomorphs have three pairs of upper incisors at birth. (B147)
  • The peg teeth lack a cutting edge. (B147)
  • The incisors are covered completely by enamel. (B147)
  • The upper incisors' roots are found in the skull's premaxillary bones. However, the length of the lower incisors' roots varies. (B147)
  • Lagomorphs have high-crowned cheek teeth with no roots(B147)
  • The lower tooth rows are closer together than the upper tooth rows. (B147)
  • "The jaw movements of pikas, rabbits, and hares are vertical or transverse."  (B147)
  • The dental formula for rabbits and hares is i 2/1, c 0/0, pm 3/2, m 3/3 x 2 = 28. (B147, B285.w5a)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • "Rabbits do not use their incisor teeth for prehending food, so in cases of severe incisor malocclusion it is possible to extract all incisor teeth." (B612.8.w8)
  • Dentition is developed for the high fibre herbivorous diet. (B612.8.w8)
  • Brown staining on the crowns of the teeth is usually seen in wild rabbits, as a result of feeding on natural grasses. (B612.8.w8)
  • There are three pairs of incisors in total; two upper and one lower. (B612.8.w8)
  • The second rudimentary pair of upper incisors are located just behind the upper incisors, and are known as peg teeth. (B612.8.w8)
  • "At rest, the lower incisors should rest just behind the upper incisors." (B612.8.w8)
  • No canines. (B612.8.w8)
  • The diastema is the gap between the incisors and premolars. (B612.8.w8)
  • The molars and premolars are frequently referred to as cheeck teeth. (B612.8.w8)
  • "Normal upper incisors have a vertical groove running along the length of the tooth and have smooth white enamel." (B612.8.w8)
  • Incisors and molars continuously grow. (B612.8.w8)

EYES:

General Information

  • Lagomorph eyes are positioned such that they allow for good broad-field vision. (B285.w5a)
  • Hares and rabbits have large eyes which are adapted to both their crepuscular and nocturnal activity patterns. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporids have "large eyes to increase visual acuity in dim light." (B430.w2)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Eyes located laterally; binocular vision. (B612.8.w8)

Adult:

  • Iris brown, less yellow than in hares. Pupils round (B142, D30).
  • Newborn: eyes closed (B52, B144, B147, B148).

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

EARS:

  • Long. (B147, B612.8.w8)
    • Length: 6.5-8.5 cm. (B285.w5c)
  • Funnel-like. (B612.8.w8)

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Hindfoot length: 2.8-4.4 in./72-110 mm (B144); 85-110 mm (B52, B285.w5c); 85-100 mm (B142).

  • Hind limbs longer than forelimbs, well adapted for running.
  • Hindfoot four digits, forefoot five digits
  • Soles furred.
  • Large straight claws.

(B142, B147).

  • Hindlegs relatively long. (B147)
  • "The feet are well furred beneath and have large, straight claws." (B147)
  • Rabbits lack footpads. Coarse fur covers the toes and metatarsals. (B612.8.w8)
  • "The rabbit stands plantigrade, with the whole area from hock to toe in contact with the ground, but becomes digitigrade when running." (B612.8.w8)

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Tail

Notes

Length: 1.8-3 in./ 45-75 mm (B52, B144); 40-70 mm (B147); 4.5-7.5 cm. (B285.w5c)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

Notes

Adult:

  • Dorsal: Grey-brown (may be more sandy-yellow or grey), with nape of neck buff, reddish or yellowish brown.
  • Head: Ears grey or grey-brown, few black hairs on edges. Vibrissae: long, black.
  • Ventral: pale grey, white or buffy-white, chest patch brown, inner legs buff-grey, feet buff, scrotum reddish.
  • Tail: dorsal dark brown/black, ventral white.

(B142, B144, B147, B148, D30)

  • The coat is a greyish colour, and the hairs on the upperparts have a fine mixture of light brown and black tips. (B285.w5c)
  • Nape: reddish-yellowish brown. (B285.w5c)
  • Underparts: light grey, with a more buff-grey colouration to the inner surfaces of the legs. (B285.w5c)
  • Tail: White below. (B285.w5c)
  • "Total black is not rare." (B285.w5c)
  • Dark collar. (B147)
  • Fur is approximately 30 mm in length. (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbits have soft underfur and long, stiff guard hairs. (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbits have three types of hair:
    • Long guard hairs.
    • Short guard hairs.
    • Undercoat.

    (B612.8.w8)

  • The longer guard hairs (also known as bristles) are produced by the primary hair follicles, which have a sebaceous gland and erector pili muscle attached. Thus, in cold conditions the hair is able to stand on end, insulating the animal by trapping a layer of warm air. (B612.8.w8)
  • Lateral primary follicles produce the short guard hairs (or awns). (B612.8.w8)
  • Down hairs (undercoat) are produced by secondary follicles. (B612.8.w8)
  • "There are hairless areas on the nose, part of the scrotum, and in the inguinal areas in both sexes." (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbit toes and metatarsals are covered with coarse fur. (B612.8.w8)

Moult:

  • Once yearly, starting on face in March, progressing to back, and to ventral areas by October/November (B142).
  • Occurs twice a year (spring and autumn). (B612.8.w8)
  • Occurs when the old hair is forced out of the hair follicle by new hair. (B612.8.w8)
  • "Molting starts at the head and proceeds downward to the rear and belly, creating an unkempt moth-eaten appearance over the rump." (B612.8.w8)
  • "Secondary follicles can vary with the season, thickening the undercoat in rabbits from cold areas." (B612.8.w8)

Adult Colour variations:

  • Black (melanistic) individuals not uncommon.
  • Albinos rare on mainland.
  • More variable colours on islands due to addition of domestic individuals.

(B52, B142).

  • A white winter coat may be produced in some wild rabbits. This is produced by the pineal gland under the action of melatonin. This change in coat colour is triggered by both photoperiod and prolactin. (B612.8.w8)
  • Hair pigments are made from tyrosine (an amino acid) under the influence of tyrosinase enzyme. Tyrosinase requires copper and iron as cofactors. The two hair pigments are:
    • Melanin - brown/black.
    • Pheomelanin - red/yellow.

    (B612.8.w8)

  • White hair occurs due to a lack of pigmentation and the reflection of light. (B612.8.w8)

Domestic rabbits:

  • Domestic rabbits are described as having four main fur types, based on the length of the fur. (B612.8.w8)
  • Fur length ranges from 12 mm in Rex and Satin breeds, to Angora rabbit with fur as long as 120 mm. Normal rabbit fur is approximately 30 mm in length. (B612.8.w8)
  • The guard hairs of Rex and Satin breeds are shorter or as short as the undercoat, whereas normal rabbits have soft underfur and long, stiff guard hairs. (B612.8.w8)
  • The colour of the fur varies greatly (unlike wild rabbits), ranging from white to black and in some breeds containing a mixture of colours. (B147)
    • Original pet rabbits had the agouti colouration; it is thought that the first colour variants appeared only in the middle of the 16th century. (B612.8.w8)
  • Rex breeds are derived from a mutation which was first noted in France in 1919. They have fur of uniform length, due to short inconspicuous guard hairs. 
  • The Satin breeds are derived from a mutation which occurred in America in the mid-1930s. As with the Rex, the guard hares are short. The characteristic sheen of the coat is due to the hairs having smooth scales. (B612.8.w8)
  • Angora rabbits breeds long guard hairs and long undercoat hairs, particularly in females (B612.8.w8)
  • In Himalayan rabbits, the colour of the coat varies depending on environmental temperature, with the Himalayan gene restricting pigmentation to the extremities, such as the ears, nose, feet, and tail, where the temperature is lower. (B612.8.w8)
    • Note: these rabbits often grow pigmented hair after surgery, since shaving the hair reduces the temperature locally. . (B612.8.w8)
  • See: Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus - Domestic rabbit for different colours of domestic rabbits.

Newborn / Juvenile:

  • Juveniles often have a white star on the forehead (B142).

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

Rabbit abdomen and GIT at PME. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit gastro-intestinal system laid out. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit heart and lungs. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit kidney. Click here for full page view with caption.

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Gastro-intestinal:
    • The rabbit has a simple stomach making up about 15% of gastrointestinal volume and an unremarkable small intestine. The large intestine is well developed, with the caecum making up about 40% of total gastrointestinal volume; this is the main fermenting chamber. More than half of the volume of the abdomen, mainly on the right side, is taken up by the ileocaecocolic complex - the spiralling caecum accompanied by the ileum and part of the colon.
    • The bile duct and the pancreatic duct enter the small intestine separately, with the bile duct extering in the proximal duodenum and the pancreatic duct somewhat distally.
  • Respiratory
    • Rabbits have a narrow oropharynx. The base of the tongue is large and the glottis is small and covered by the tongue. Each of the relatively small lungs has a cranial, middle and caudal lobe; the right lung also has an accessory lobe. The pleura is thin and connective tissue in the lung is minimal.
  • Integument
    • Rabbits have thin skin. On the ventral neck there may be a fold of skin called the dewlap. This is generally more prominent in females than in males, and in the domestic rabbit it is more prominent in some breeds than in others.
    • Scent glands include the chin, anal and inguinal glands. These are important for territorial and sexual marking.
  • Eyes
    • Rabbits have laterally-situated eyes providing a wide field of view.
    • The lacrimal system is made up of three glands - the lacrimal gland, Harderian gland \9deep gland of the third eyelid) and and third eyelid gland (superficil gland of the third eyelid. A single lacrimal puncta on the lower eyelid provides drainage via the lacromal gland and nasolacrimal duct. 
    • The globe has a large cornea and a laterally ovoid pupil, round when dilated. 
    • Venous drainage is provided by an extensive postorbital venous sinus.
    • The rabbit has a merangiotic retinal vascular pattern - only part of the inner retina is supplied by blood vessels. The optic nerve is located above the midline; retinal examination therefore involves looking upward into the eye. There is a depression in the optic disk. There is no tapetum lucidum.
  • Circulatory:
    • The heart is relatively small. Both the left and right atrioventricular valves are bicuspid.
    • The pulmonary artery and its branches are relatively muscular. 
    • The myocardium has only limited collateral circulation.
    • The ears have a countercurrent arteriovenous shunt, which allows heat dispersion.
  • Female reproductive tract
    • The uterus is duplex, with the two uteri remaining separate and forming two cervices which unite to form a long vagina.
    • There are usually eight mammary glands.
  • Male reproductive tract
    • The penis is short and has no baculum; it points backwards when relaxed.
    • The hairless scrotal sacs lie cranial to the penis.
    • The testes have large epididymal fat pads and are relatively large, being largest in dominant males. They are regressed outside the breeding season.
  • Urinary
    • The right kidney is located cranial to the left kidney. The kidneys are fairly primitive and unipapillate.
  • Skeletal
    • The skeleton is relatively fragile. 
    • The vertebral formula is C7, T12 (usually; T13 in some individuals), L7, S4, C15-16. There are usually 12 pairs of ribs. 
    • Rabbits have small clavicals as well as scapulae. On the scapulae, a bony projection known as the superhamate process juts out at right angles from the acromion process.
    • The femur articulates with the tibia only. The thin, blade-like fibula is fused with the tibia for more than half its length. 
  • Central Nervous System
    • The brain of the rabbit is unremarkable. 
    • There are eight cervical, 12 thoracic, seven lumbar, four sacral and six caudal spinal nerves. 
    • From about the middle of the sacrum the spinal cord reduces to only a slender filament which continues to the tail base , accompanied by the cauda equina.
  • Immune and endocrine systems:
    • The spleen is small, flat and elongated. 
    • Lymphoid tissue is found in the tonsils, sacculus rotundus, appendix and Peyer's patches in the small intestine. The extensive gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) makes up about 50% of all lymphoid tissue in the rabbit.
    • The thymus is large, even in adult rabbits. Its is located cranial to the heart, extending forwards into the thoracic inlet.
CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports

European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus - Detailed Anatomy Notes (Literature Reports)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

Notes

BREEDING SEASON:

  • Mating February to June, litters March-October (B148)
  • Iberian Peninsula: Mating occurs from autumn through the spring, sometimes lasting longer. (B147)
  • 90% of adult females pregnant Jan-June England, February-July Central Europe, with pregnancy rare outside this time: reversed for introduced Southern Hemisphere populations (B147)
  • Breeding February to August/September in northern Europe. (B52, B285.w5c)
  • Breeding season mainly January to August (B142)
  • In Mediterranean climates, winter breeding usually occurs, finishing in late spring, whereas in more temperate areas breeding usually starts early in the spring and carries on through to mid-summer. (B605.7.w7)
  • Mating season varies depending upon the region, for example:
    • Western Wales, UK: January to June.
    • Netherlands: February to June.
    • Germany: February to September.
    • Western Australia, Australia: March/April to October.
    • New Zealand: June to November.
    • Sub Antarctic: July to May.
    • New South Wales, Australia: Year-round.

    (B287)

  • "The longest breeding seasons recorded are in warm temperate New Zealand, with a well-distributed rainfall, where more than 50% of the adult females may be pregnant for nine months of the year." (B605.7.w7)

  • In the introduced populations in the Southern Hemisphere, the breeding season spans the opposite half of the year to their northern counterparts. (B147)

  • "In general, in its introduced range, breeding begins and ends earlier in the year the lower the latitude." (B605.7.w7)

  • "From January to June in England and from February to July in central Europe 90 percent of all adult females are pregnant; there are only occasional pregnancies in other months." (B147)

  • Captive individuals of this species in Australia were reported to reproduce between June and December. (B287)
  • "The European rabbit is notoriously prolific. It is liable to breed opportunistically at any season..." (B605.7.w7)
  • "The length of the season, and hence the number of litters produced each year (at a rate of about one per month), depend on the length of the growing season of the herbage on which it feeds." (B605.7.w7)
  • At higher latitudes, breeding only lasts about four months, whereas in areas such as temperate New Zealand, breeding may last for up to nine months. (B605.7.w7)
  • In France, it has been reported that ovaries are large during the spring, and small in the summer and autumn. (B287)
  • In southern Sweden, uterine mass was reported to peak in May and June, and be low in December. (B287)
  • Opportunistic breeding often occurs in areas which experience long-lasting droughts followed by occasional heavy rain leading to sudden vegetation growth, such as semi-arid parts of Australia.
  • During shorter days from late summer to winter, ovarian activity decreases. (B612.8.w8)
  • Domestic rabbits
    • In domestic rabbits, there is variable reduction in breeding outside the normal spring and summer breeding season seen in wild Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit. (B550.16.w16)
      • Most does show a period of anoestrus for 1 - 2 months; some females and males are fertile year-round. (B550.16.w16)
      • Does may not become sexually receptive when moulting, lactating or in poor nutrition. (B550.16.w16)

OESTRUS / OVULATION:

General Information

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Rabbits have a period of receptivity 
  • There is no regular oestrus cycle but there is a period of receptivity, in which the doe allows copulation about every seven days; (B142, B605.7.w7) every 5 or 6 days. (B612.8.w8)
    • Cycle reported to last seven days on average (range: 4.5-41.5 days; sample size = 67 cycles, 34 females). (B287)
  • Induced ovulators. (B142, B612.8.w8)
  • There is a post-partum oestrus within a few hours of parturition; (B147, B605.7.w7) between 10 and 13 hours post-coitus. (B612.8.w8)
  • Ovulation occurs 10 -13 hours after the stimulus of mating. Contact with other female rabbits can also cause ovulation. (B550.16.w16)
    • Some females fail to ovulate following mating. (B550.16.w16)
  • Re-mating may occur during pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. A second mating within 2 - 3 days of the first mating can cause further ovulation and fertilisation in a pregnant rabbit, and pertilisation may also occur from mating towards the end of pseudopregnancy. (B550.16.w16)

GESTATION / PREGNANCY:

  • Gestation lasts between 28 and 37 days, with 30-32 days seeming to be most frequent. (B287)
  • Resorbtion of embryos is common (B147)
  • Implant: 7 days. (B287)
  • The time of year during which pregnant females are found varies depending upon the region, for example:
    • Southern Sweden: March/April to August.
    • New Zealand: Year-round, with a peak from June to October.
    • France: Peak during the spring.
    • Northern Cambridgeshire, England, UK: No pregnant females found between October and December.
    • Captive populations known to breed between March and August.

    (B287)

  • "From January to June in England and from February to July in central Europe 90 percent of all adult females are pregnant; there are only occasional pregnancies in other months." (B147)

  • It has been reported that at least 60% of all pregnancies are not completed; the embryos are resorbed by the female. (B147)

  • Reports from Wales indicate that heavy losses and resorption of embryos (either single embryos or whole litters) occasionally occurred early on in the gestation period. (B605.7.w7)

  • Variable incidence of pre-natal mortality. (B605.7.w7)

  • Pre-natal mortality is now "...seen as adaptive in allowing does either to terminate a pregnancy or to reduce the size of the litter if conditions are unfavourable for lactation." (B605.7.w7)

  • Smaller litters have longer gestation periods than larger litters. (B612.8.w8)

  • "If a litter has not kindled by day 32 there is a higher risk of the kits being stillborn." (B612.8.w8)

  • Fetal loss can occur due to external factors such as poor body condition and nutrition, age and time of year. (B612.8.w8)

  • Pregnancy usually lasts 30- 33 days; it may be longer if the litter size is small. (B550.16.w16, J35.151.w2)
    • Occasional gestations of 29 or 35 days are noted. (B550.16.w16)
    • Gestation periods of up to 40 days, resulting in a single or two, abnormally large, stillborn young, have been reported. (B550.16.w16, J35.151.w2)
  • "Embryonic mortality is very high in rabbits with only about 60 to 70% successful births." (B612.8.w8)
  • "Rabbits are particularly prone to fetal loss at day 13, when placentation changes from yolk sacs to hemochorial, and at 23 days when the fetuses are susceptible to dislodgement by rough handling." (B612.8.w8)

Pseudopregnancy

  • Infertile mating or the presence of a male nearby can cause pseudopregnancy. (B612.8.w8)

  • Pseudopregnancy can last for 16 or 17 days. The dam will not be able to conceive during this time. Hair plucking may occur after 18 to 22 days, in order to make a nest. (B612.8.w8)

  • Progesterone secreted by the corpus luteum during pseudopregnancy causes the uterus and mammary glands to grow. "This is most pronounced in the first 10 days; by day 16 the organs will involute and at day 18 the corpus luteum will be disintegrating." (B612.8.w8)

PARTURITION / BIRTH: In newly constructed den lined with vegetation, well removed from main burrow of colony (B142).

  • Females first give birth at about 4 months of age. (B287)
  • Females reported to give birth at different times of the year, depending upon the region:
    • Oxfordshire, England, UK: February to July, with a peak between April and June.
    • Netherlands and southern Sweden: March to July, with a peak in May.
    • Germany: March to October.
    • New South Wales, Australia: From mid-June to unknown.

    (B287)

  • Young are born into den which has been lined with vegetation. This den is located well away from the main burrow of the colony. (B147)

  • Young are born underground. (B605.7.w7)

  • Domestic rabbit information:

    • "Parturition usually occurs in the early morning and normally takes about 30 minutes, although young have been born hours or even days apart." (B612.8.w8)

    • Oxytocin peaks prior to parturition. (B612.8.w8)
    • Parturition is dependent on the weakening or withdrawal of the block on the myometrium caused by progesterone, plus a sudden release of oxytocin. (B550.16.w16)
    • Two to three days before parturition, food intake reduces. (B550.16.w16)
    • Parturition usually occurs in the early morning. (B550.16.w16)
    • Both anterior and breech presentations are normal. (B550.16.w16)
    • Delivery usually takes less than 30 minutes. (B550.16.w16)
    • Occasionally one or two young in the litter are unusually large. (B550.16.w16)
    • Sometimes, parturition is divided with some young being born several hours after the others, and occasionally days apart. If young are born three days apart or longer, the additional kits will not survive. (B550.16.w16)
    • The presence of additional kits still in the doe can be determined by palpation of the doe's abdomen one day after parturition. If any kits have been retained, delivery may be induced using oxytocin. (B550.16.w16)

Neonatal / Development:

  • Birth: furless, blind (eyes closed) and deaf.
  • 10 days old: eyes open.
  • 3 weeks: leave nest.

(B52, B144, B147, B148)

  • Newborns are naked. (B285.w5c, B605.7.w7)
  • Neonates maintain body temperature via the activity of brown fat; this is highest in the first two weeks. (B612.8.w8)
  • Born blind and helpless. (B605.7.w7)
  • "The young are altricial with sealed eyelids and ear canals." (B612.8.w8)
  • Newborns weigh between 30 and 45 g. (B287); weigh between 40 and 50 g. (B147, B612.8.w8)
  • Neonates usually weight between 40 and 45 g. (B285.w5c)
  • Embryos weighed at 30 and 31 days gestation have been known to weigh more than 45 g. (B287)
  • Newborn females are reported to have an average weight of 35.23 g (se = 1.140; Sample size = 40), with newborn males being slightly heavier on average at 36.99 g (se = 0.0833, Sample size = 55). (B287)
  • Eyes open at about ten days of age. (B285.w5c)
  • Weaning mass: Reported to be between 175 and 221 g. (B287)
  • Weaned at: 22-31 days. (B287); about 20-21 days. (B605.7.w7); about 4 weeks of age. (B147); about 21 days. (B285.w5b)
  • Young emerge from the den at about 21 days of age. (B287, B605.7.w7)
  • Eat solid food from about 21 days. (B287)
  • Young are independent between 25 and 28 days. (B287)
  • Due to the fact that neonates are hairless and the doe shows little maternal behaviour, neonates are at high risk of hypothermia. (B612.8.w8) See: Chilling - Hypothermia
  • Passive immunity is acquired before birth. (B612.8.w8)

LITTER SIZE:

  • One to nine, maximum 14 (144); 1-9 average 5-6 (B147), 5-6, occasionally to 12 (B52, B285.w5c); 4-12 (B148); usually 3-7 (B142); 3-9 with average of 4-6 mid-season, and 3-4 during off-peak periods. (B605.7.w7)
  • Between one and fourteen young per litter, though between four and seven young appears to be most frequent. (B287)
  • Peaks in litter size occur in the spring when pasture production is at its maximum. (B605.7.w7)
  • Seasonal and regional variation in litter size does occur, but it is not as pronounced as in the length of the breeding season. (B605.7.w7)
  • Domestic rabbit:
    • Litters of 1 - 22 kits may occur, although the average is eight. (B550.16.w16)
    • The first litter generally contains fewer kits than does the second litter. (B550.16.w16)
    • Breeds vary in whether litter size stays constant, increases or decreases, and at what age it starts to decrease. (B550.16.w16)

TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR:

General Information

  • The inter-birth interval in lagomorphs is reduced by the phenomenon of induced ovulation, and post-partum oestrus, which allows females to conceive immediately after she has given birth. (B285.w5a)
  • A female can produce up to three or four litters per year. (B430.w2)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Minimum interval about 30 days (B142); 3-5 litters/year (B148).
  • Minimum interbirth interval is 29 days. (B287)
  • Females produce between one and seven litters per year, though four or five appears to be most frequent. (B287)
  • Usually three to five litters per year. (B285.w5c)
  • Five to seven litters per year. (B147)
  • Females produce between about 15 and 45 young per year, depending on the climate. The most productive areas appear to be improved pasture in New Zealand. (B605.7.w7)
  • Females can produce more than 30 young per year. (B147)
  • "At least in northern regions, however, environmental conditions, population pressures, and social factors seem to stimulate controls that restrict the average annual production per female to only 10-12 young." (B147)
  • "...annual reproductive rate of female rabbits depends primarily on the length of the breeding season." (B605.7.w7)
  • Domestic rabbits:
    • "The reproductive capacity of rabbits is potentially up to 60 young per year as the doe has a post partum estrus within 24 hours of kindling." (B612.8.w8)
    • A doe can be bred while lactating if (a) she is mated on the same day as parturition; or (b) she has only one or two young suckling her. Otherwise, she can be bred again when the young are six to eight weeks old, or earlier (three to four weeks) if the young are weaned onto creep feed at that age. (B550.16.w16)

LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION:

General Information

  • Leporids only release milk once in every 24 hour period. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporid milk has a very high fat and protein content, and as such is highly nutritious. Although the lactation period is brief, the milk is pumped into the young at a high speed.(B285.w5b)
  • The lactation period has a duration of between 17 and 23 days. (B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Weaning 4 weeks (B147), about 21-25 days (B142); between 22 and 25 days. (B287)
  • Milk composition: energy 2.06 Kcal/mL. Solids 31.2%, of which fat 49%, protein 32%, carbohydrates 6%, ash 6%. (P19.1.w5)

Domestic rabbits:

  • Rabbit milk has an unusually low lactose content, and very high fat and protein content:
    • Protein: 13%
    • Fat: 9%
    • Lactose: 1%
    • Minerals: 2.3%

    (B612.8.w8)

  • A gland near the nipple produces a pheromone which stimulates suckling. (B612.8.w8)
  • Consumption of both water and caecotrophs increases ten-fold during lactation. (B612.8.w8)
  • In high-producing does, milk can be produced before parturition (kindling). (B550.16.w16)
  • Usually, milk let-down occurs after kindling. (B550.16.w16)
  • If milk let-down is delayed it may be stimulated with an injection of prolactin. (B550.16.w16)
  • On average, a doe produces 160 - 200 gm milk per day in her first lactation and 170 - 220 gm per day in subsequent lactations. (B550.16.w16)
  • Milk contains 15% protein, 10% fat, only 2% carbohydrates and 2 - 2.5% minerals. (B550.16.w16)
  • Milk production reaches a maximum at two weeks, remains high to three weeks, then decreases in the fourth week, but continues for up to six to eight weeks, depending on various factors: diet, parity, genetic factors and the number of young suckling. (B550.16.w16)

SEXUAL MATURITY:

  • 5 - 8 weeks (B144).
  • As early as 3.5 months (830 g body weight), but only those from early litters breed in birth year. (B142)
  • 3 - 5 months (B52).
  • Both sexes become fertile at three or four months of age. (B605.7.w7)
  • Variable results from different studies: (B287)
    • Females first mate at about 6 months of age. 
    • Females first give birth at about 4 months of age. 
    • Females reach sexual maturity between 120 and 150 days. 
    • Spermatogenesis occurs at about 7 months of age. 
    • Males reach sexual maturity at about nine months. 
    • Both males and females are thought to start mating at four months of age. (
    • Males and females are thought to reach sexual maturity between five and eight months of age. 

    (B287)

  • In southern Spain, the majority of females first become pregnant at three or four months of age. However, "...full reproductive potential in wild populations is seldom attained before the second calendar year." (B147)
  • In New Zealand, females between nine and twelve months of age reproduce at the maximum rate. (B605.7.w7)
  • Domestic rabbits:
    • Sexual maturity varies between breeds: it is reached at 4 - 4.5 months in small breeds, and between 4.5 and 5 months in larger breeds. (B612.8.w8)
      • While small "Polish" rabbits may be bred at four months and medium-weight New Zealand and Chinchilla rabbits at four to seven months, heavy Flemish rabbits may be bred only at nine to 12 months. (B550.16.w16)
      • Females of domesticated varieties can become pregnant at just three months of age. (B147)
      • Some mobile protozoa may be present in ejaculate of bucks just four months old; adult levels of spermatozoa are reached at seven to eight months. (B550.16.w16)

MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

  • Spermatogenesis reported to occur year-round in southwestern Australia, and in northern Cambridgeshire, England. (B287)
  • Testes: The time of year during which the testes are large or small varies depending on the region:
    • Southern Sweden: Large between March and August, small in October.
      • The accessory glands are at their largest in May and June. (B287)
    • Northern Cambridgeshire, England: Large between April and May. Low in October and November.
    • New Zealand: Large in September, small in January.
    • France: Large in the spring, small in the summer.

    (B287)

LONGEVITY / MORTALITY:

General Information

  • Rabbits and hares in the wild live for less than a year on average; a maximum age of 12 years has been recorded in a couple of species. (B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Usual 1.5 years, maximum 10 years (B144).
  • Rarely more than 9 years (B147).
  • 10 years (B52, B285.w5c).
  • 5-8 years (B148). 
  • First year mortality may be 95% (B142).
  • Does not usually live longer than nine years. (B147)
  • Mortality rates are thought to be higher in New Zealand and Spain than in Australia. (B605.7.w7)
  • In Australia, it is thought that more than 80% of young are predated upon. (B605.7.w7)
  • For adults of more than six months of age, annual mortality rates are usually greater than 60%. However, mortality rates may be as low as 25% in some low-density populations found in New Zealand. (B605.7.w7)
  • In the wild, this species is thought to live up to about seven or eight years. (B605.7.w7)
  • This species can reproduce until approximately six years of age. (B147)
  • Domestic rabbits: 
    • Average life span is between 7 and 10 years. (B612.8.w8)
    • Some females continue reproducing well to five or six years old. (B550.16.w16)
    • Bucks generally maintain reproductive activity for up to 5 - 6 years. (B550.16.w16)

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Natural Diet

Notes

NATURAL DIET: 

General Information

  • Lagomorphs only eat vegetation, mainly grasses and other herbaceous plants. Bark from young trees and small shrub stems may be eaten when food supplies are scarce. (B147, B285.w5c, B430.w2)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

Herbivorous:

  • Grasses, herbs, cultivated plants (cereals, roots), shoots and bark of young trees and shrubs, buds, sprouts, roots.

(B52, B142, B144, B147, B148, B285.w5c).

  • When preferred food items are not available, twigs from woody plants and bark are eaten. (B147)
  • "Although they tolerate bitter food like alfalfa and thyme well, they show preference for sweet foods like molasses and sucrose." (B612.8.w8)
  • High fibre particles are an essential part of the diet, as they are required in order to allow normal functioning of the gastrointestinal process. (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbits drink a lot, with the average intake being around 120 ml/kg. As such, a 2 kg rabbit will drink as much in one day as a 10 kg dog. (B612.8.w8)

QUANTITY EATEN:--

STUDY METHODS:--

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Hibernation / Aestivation

Notes

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

--

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Haematology / Biochemistry

Notes

HAEMATOLOGY:

BIOCHEMISTRY:

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY

 Rabbit faeces. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit caecotrophs. Click here for full page view with caption Normal rabbit hard faeces and caecotrophs. Click here fo full-page view with caption Rabbit eating caecotrophs. Click here for full page view with caption

The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE):

  • The normal body temperature of the rabbit is about 38.5 - 39.5 °C. 
  • Fasting metabolic rate is about 120 kcal per day for a 2 kg rabbit, or 750 kcal/m˛ body surface area.
  • The ears, which provide about 12% of total body surface area, are very important for both temperature sensing and heat exchange. 
  • Rabbits are unable to sweat and are very susceptible to overheating.
  • The neonate can maintain normoglycaemia, without being suckled, for about six hours; after this time the glycogen stores are exhausted.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION):

  • The normal respiratory rate is about 30 - 60 per minutes. At rest, rabbits breath mainly using muscular contractions of the diaphragm, not movements of the rib cage.
  • A panting rabbit takes shallow breaths and has a decreased tidal volume although minute volume increases about 15-fold.

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE):

  • Normal heart rate can vary from 180 to 250 beats per minute. 

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY): 

  • Rabbits are hind-gut fermentors. The main caecal microorganisms in the rabbit are Bacteroides spp. and the predominant volatile fatty acid (VFA) produced is acetate, followed by butyrate and propionate. The VFAs are absorbed across the epithelium of the caecum into the bloodstream.
  • Rabbit employ a system known as caecotrophy to increase digestive efficiency. This involves consumption of a special type of faeces, called caecotrophs. These are usually eaten directly from the anus. In the hind gut, contractions of colonic segments and haustrae (longitudinal bands of muscle) cause fluid and small particles to be moved backwards, into the caecum, while large particles of fibre more than about 0.5 mm diameter are transported by normal peristaltic movements through the colon for excretion in hard faeces. The soft faces or caecotrophs, which are high in protein, vitamins and minerals, are produced periodically, mainly when the rabbit would be resting (during the day for wild rabbits) and are normally eaten directly from the anus (this also occurs for caecotrophs produced while the rabbit is active).
  • Caecotrophy increases digestibility of food and provides vitamins. Rabbits can utilise 70 - 80% of plant protein.
  • Pellets (small, dark especially if coated with secretion from anal glands) may be found in dense aggregations (latrines).

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE):

  • Total water intake is in the region of 120 mL/kg per day.
  • Rabbits are not very efficient at concentrating urea in the urine and therefore produce relatively large amounts of urine.
  • The urine is alkaline, pH 7.6 - 8.8, with a specific gravity of 1.003 to 1.036 (average: 1.015).
  • Urine is the main route by which calcium (and magnesium) is excreted and rabbit urine is normally cloudy.
  • The urine can be red in colour due to plant pigments.

CHROMOSOMES: 2n = 44 Chromosomes.

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: --

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS: 

General Information

  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chins and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)
  • Whereas pikas tend to be more vocal, rabbits and hares rely strongly on scent rather than sound as a means of communication. (B285.w5b)
  • High-pitched distress squeals are emitted by leporids when captured by a predator, and specific alarm calls are produced in five rabbit species. (B285.w5b, B430.w2)
  • Some rabbit species thump the ground with their hind feet when faced with danger (B285.w5b, B430.w2); this reaction is thought to be a warning to nestlings underground. (B285.w5b)
  • The conspicuous white underside present on the tails of some rabbit species can act as a visual warning to other individuals when fleeing from a predator. These species tend to be found in more open habitats.(B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Rabbits have a very wide field of vision, but cannot see the area just beneath the chin.
  • They have excellent hearing and are very sensitive to high frequency sounds.
  • The ears are important in temperature sensing.
  • Olfaction is important in social behaviour; rabbits scent mark by "chinning", depositing scent from a gland under the chin.
  • Rabbits give shrill calls when frightened or in pain. They thump with their hind feet to warn of danger.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus - Detailed Physiology Notes (Literature Reports)

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

Notes

  • Crepuscular feeders. (B612.8.w8)
  • "They eat to satisfy calorie requirements and consumption of food increases at lower temperatures." (B612.8.w8)
  • Non-ruminant herbivore. (B612.8.w8)
  • "Unlike ruminants, which break down their food by chewing the cud, rabbit[s] use browsing behavior and cecotrophy to achieve high food conversion." (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbits are selective over which parts of plants they eat, and choose younger, more succulent plants. (B612.8.w8)
  • Rabbits are able to sustain their high metabolic rate through their browsing behaviour. (B612.8.w8)
  • "Rabbits ingest coarse fiber only to stimulate gut motility and, unlike horses (which carry fiber for up to three days) rapidly excrete it, thus obviating the need to carry vast quantities." (B612.8.w8)
  • The tongue is used to ensure that all food has been thoroughly chewed. (B612.8.w8)
  • Cecotrophs are swallowed whole, and are not chewed. (B612.8.w8)
  • Young rabbits start caecotrophy at approximately two to three weeks of age, when they begin to eat solids. (B612.8.w8)
  • At first, they ingest maternal caecotrophs. (B612.8.w8)
  • "Cecotrophy is essential for rabbit health and the lack of cecotrophy leads to a lower level of nutrients and reduced availability of protein and B and K vitamins." (B612.8.w8)

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Parental Behaviour

Notes

General Information

  • Male leporids are not generally involved in care of the young. However, if adult females attack young leporids, males will intervene, a behaviour known as 'policing'. (B285.w5b)
  • Even maternal care of the young is not particularly prominent in leporids, hence this reproductive strategy is known as 'absentee parentism'. (B285.w5a)
  • Leporids demonstrate an unusual system of nursing; the young are suckled only briefly (often less than five minutes) just once every 24 hours. (B285.w5b)
  • It is thought that the lack of social contact between the mother and her young is a strategy which diminishes the chances of attracting the attention of predators. (B285.w5b)
  • The entrances to breeding tunnels are carefully re-sealed following each bout of suckling (B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Suckle young once daily, for a few minutes.
  • Maternal care may extend to 6-7 weeks old for last litter of season.

(B142, B148)

  • The female only visits her young once per night, with each visit lasting only five minutes. (B605.7.w7)
  • The female constructs the nest alone. (B605.7.w7)
  • The female may construct her stop months before using it. (B605.7.w7)

Information from observation of domestic rabbits:

  • The fur of pregnant rabbits undergoes a generalised loosening several days before parturition. The rabbit pulls out mouthfuls of fur to line the nest. (B602.19.w19)
  • Distribution of fur pulling for nest building:
    • Dewlap (B601.13.w13, V.w128)
    • Ventral abdomen, chest (B600.9.w9, B602.19.w19) around the nipples. (V.w128)
    • Forelegs and hips. (B602.19.w19)
  • The doe builds a nest of gathered straw, hay etc, lined and covered with her own fur, during pregnancy. After parturition she may cover the nest and young with more material, which conserves heat and provides extra protection for the kits. (B550.16.w16)
    • If there is no appropriate material out of which to build a nest, the doe will construct one solely from her own fur. (B550.16.w16)
    • Experienced does tend to make better nests than first-time mothers. (B550.16.w16)
    • Different breeds and different stains of rabbit vary in their nest quality and when they construct it. (B550.16.w16)
  • As each kit is delivered, the doe licks and nurses it. (B550.16.w16)
    • Some females do not stop after eating the placenta and cutting the umbilical cord, but may continue to eat parts of the young. this may be due to insecurity as well as being seen associated with poor nutrition, a nd sometimes having a hereditary component. (B550.16.w16)
  • A study of New Zealand White female rabbits in large indoor ground pens, kept either individually or in male-female pairs, found that females spent on average 221 s per day nursing. (Th17)
  • A study of New Zealand White female rabbits in large indoor ground pens, kept either individually or in male-female pairs, found that the average number of suckling bouts per day (24 HOUR) was 1.3 (range 0 -7). This included a range of frequencies including once per day (57% of observation days), twice per day (26% of observation days), no nursings (11% of observation days) and multiple nursings (6% of observation days). NURSING tended to occur at night, though some at dawn/dusk. (Th17)
  • The total number of nursings during a single lactation period studied (day of birth to day 25) ranged from 10 to 44, demonstrating wide variation between females. (Th17)
  • Nursing comprised 65% of the activities the females displayed in the nest. Other behaviours observed were digging, sitting alert, exploring and parental care behaviours. (Th17)
  • A study of New Zealand White rabbits in male-female pairs in large ground pens found that males sometimes visited the nest box after the female had nursed her young. On no occasion did any male injure or kill a kit. (Th17)
  • Direct parental care behaviours (sniffing / licking the kits or covering them with nest material) was observed in both males and females particularly in the 10 minutes post nursing. This parental behaviour occurred following 72/484 nursing bouts (14.8%), was not extensive, and did not involve all kits. (Th17)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

Notes

  • Gregarious.
  • Dominance hierarchy within colony.
  • Dominant females have best nest sites; female fight over nest sites.
  • Pronounced territoriality particularly of higher-ranked individuals in breeding season.
  • Territory generally 0.3-3 hectares, rarely larger than 20 hectares.
  • Territory of males usually larger than that of females.
  • Territory marked using scent marks.
  • Warn others of danger by thumping on ground with hind legs.
  • Adult females aggressive to juveniles, especially juvenile females.

(B142, B144, B147, B148)

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR:

  • "Colonial organization associated with warren systems." (B285.w5c)
  • Generally relatively gregarious. (B147)
  • "...many individuals may burrow in the same vicinity, so a single warren sometimes occupies more than 1 ha." (B147)
  • Dominance hierarchies exist within colonies. (B147, B605.7.w7)
  • Social groups are organised with a strict linear dominance hierarchy. (B605.7.w7)
  • Thump hind limbs on the ground as a danger warning sign. (B147)
  • Lives communally. (B605.7.w7)
  • "At low density isolated pairs are not uncommon." (B605.7.w7)
  • "The dominant male (buck) serves several does, while some younger, subordinate bucks may live peripherally to the group and delay achieving a degree of dominance until they get older." (B605.7.w7)
  • Group territories may be defended by groups in high density areas. However, the rabbits will often live in small groups consisting of just two or three animals in areas of low density. May even live solitarily (possibly males). (B605.7.w7)
  • "Neighbouring groups may coalesce and feed together at night, or be joined by bucks visiting from other groups." (B605.7.w7)
  • "Defended territories are usually small, often less than one hectare; but if food is short or distributed unevenly, rabbits may feed communally at night at distances of up to at least 500m away from where they spend the day." (B605.7.w7)

PREDATION:

  • Australia: it is thought that more than 80% of young are killed by predators. The young are killed either in the nest, or within two weeks of leaving it. (B605.7.w7)
  • Foxes and feral cats. (B605.7.w7)
  • Spain: rabbits are preyed upon by 19 species of birds of prey, as well as ten mammalian carnivores. (B605.7.w7)
  • Even in areas where fewer predators occur (including Australia, Chile and New Zealand), predation is still thought to be the main cause of death in rabbits of all ages. (B605.7.w7)
  • Predators include:
    • Stoats, weasels, foxes, birds of prey.
    • Foxes, stoats, polecats, wild cats take all ages.
    • Badgers, weasels, buzzards, domestic cats take juveniles.
    • Owls, great black-backed gull, raven, crow are more occasional predators

(B142)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

PREDATOR AVOIDANCE:

  • Rabbits use dense cover to hide from predators. (B285.w5b)

POPULATION DENSITIES:

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Density usually 0.5 - 10 per hectare (B143); 1 - 15 per hectare (B142).
  • Usually between 25 and 37 individuals per hectare, though densities of up to 1000/hectare have been reached on Skokholm Island, off southwestern Wales. (B147)
HOME RANGES AND DISTANCES TRAVELLED:

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Home ranges are thought to rarely exceed 20 hectares. (B147)
  • "A year after 63 individuals were marked in one study, 15 were recovered, none more than 100 meters from where it was first captured." (B147)
  • At night, may travel as far as 500 metres away from day time areas, if feeding communally. (B605.7.w7)
  • Most juveniles remain in the area in which they were born, though some may disperse several kilometres away. (B605.7.w7)
  • "When introduced to Australia, rabbits spread over unoccupied territory at rates of up to 300km a year, apparently unaided...compared with about 15km a year in New Zealand." (B605.7.w7)

TERRITORIALITY:

General Information

  • The majority of hares and rabbits are non-territorial; some hares occupy home ranges of up to 300 ha (740 acres). ranges of individuals may overlap in favoured feeding grounds. (B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Pronounced territoriality. (B147, B605.7.w7)
  • Territoriality is particularly pronounced in higher ranking animals during the breeding season. (B147)
  • The European rabbit scent marks by "chinning". (B430.w2)
  • "Males defend group territories that include the ranges of all the females belonging to a particular breeding group." (B147)
  • May defend group territories at high densities. (B605.7.w7)
  • Defended territories are usually small. (B605.7.w7)
  • "Adult rabbits seldom shift their ground permanently, though their territories may "creep" over time." (B605.7.w7)

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Sexual Behaviour

Notes

General Information

  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chins and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)

Specific Oryctolagus cuniculus Information

  • Dominant males mate with most females. Chases and enurination seen in courtship (B142).
  • A study conducted in Australia reported that dominant females usually bred within established warrens, whereas subordinate females tended to breed in isolated stops. The subordinate females were less successful in their breeding attempts. (B605.7.w7)
  • Domestic rabbits: The female lies down and raises her hindquarters. The male moves quite suddenly, mounting and resting his head on her flank, or nuzzling her hindquarters. The male gives about 8 -12 rapid copulatory thrusts, ejaculates, and falls sideways or backwards, often with a characteristic cry. (B550.16.w16)
    • Sometimes mating is repeated after about a minute; this is sometimes less vigorous, ending with the buck scrabbling off sideways rather than falling. (B550.16.w16)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Notes

ACTIVITY PATTERNS: Terrestrial. Run fast to escape danger (B147).

  • May bask in the sun near a burrow entrance in the early morning. (B147)

SELF-GROOMING:

  • Rabbits use a variety of postures to reach and groom all areas of the body; the front legs are used to groom the face and ears. The tongue is used for grooming and the incisors are used to remove mats of dead hair. (B600.9.w9)
  • Typical grooming includes licking the palmar surfaces of the forefeet then pressing these over the sides of the face, similarly using the forepaw on each side to pull down the ears, one at a time, licking each side of the body and licking and cleaning the fur of the feet. (B617.1.w1)

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

  • Mainly crepuscular/nocturnal, but diurnal if undisturbed.
  • Sometimes bask in early morning sun.
  • Reduced activity in strong winds/heavy rain.

(B142, B147)

  • Generally nocturnal. This species leaves its burrow in the evening, and returns to it early in the morning. (B147)

SPEED OF MOVEMENT: --

NAVIGATION: --

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Notes

  • Wide variety of habitats - stony desert to subalpine valleys, including fields, parks, gardens, grasslands, hedgerows.
  • Prefer grasslands with adjacent cover.
  • Rarely found at altitudes above 600 m.
  • Avoid coniferous woodland, cold and humid habitats.

(B51, B52, B142, B143, B144, B147, D30)

  • Open forest. (B51)
  • This is an opportunistic species, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including:
    • Stony deserts.
    • Subalpine valleys.
    • Fields, parks and gardens.

    (B285.w5c)

  • Rarely seen at altitudes exceeding 600 m (2,000 ft.). (B285.w5c)
  • This species is thought to favour sandy, hilly terrain, which contains woods plants and shrubs. (B147)
  • Never found at altitudes exceeding 600 m. (B147)
  • Ideal habitat for this species is reported to be: "...a Mediterranean climate with a rainfall of less than about 1,000mm per annum, short herbage and well-drained, loosely compacted soils that are easily dug, or with secure refuge areas in scrub adjacent to feeding grounds." (B605.7.w7)
  • This species prefers dry yet rich pastures, but it is a very hardy species and can be found anywhere that grass might grow. (B605.7.w7)
  • Although it prefers drier climes, it can and does survive in wet climates. (B605.7.w7)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

Notes

  • Dig complex burrows (warrens), up to 45 m long and 3 m deep, c. 15 cm diameter, with main chambers 30-60 cm high.
  • Large surface entrances indicated by mound of earth, smaller entrances without mound.
  • Larger burrow systems in chalk areas than sandy areas.
  • Nest in blind-ending chamber, lines with hair from abdomen.
  • Subordinate females may nest in short, single-entrance 'stops' separate from main warren.

(B142, B143, B147, B148)

  • Lives within warren systems. (B285.w5c, B605.7.w7)
  • Frequently digs complex burrow systems known as warrens. These warrens may be up to 3 metres deep, and as long as 45 m. The tunnels are usually about 15 cm in diameter, with the main living chambers reaching heights of between 30 and 60 cm. (B147)
  • "Main surface entrances are indicated by mounds of earth, but numerous smaller openings lack mounds." (B147)
  • One colony consisting of 407 rabbits was known to maintain a burrow system with 2,080 entrances. (B147)
  • The female gives birth to her young within a specially constructed den, lined with vegetation, and located away from the main burrow of the colony. (B147)
  • Young born underground. (B605.7.w7)
  • It should be noted, however, that wild rabbits do not always live underground, and may remain above ground, taking shelter in dense vegetation during the day, and going underground only to breed. (B605.7.w7)
  • Female constructs the nest alone. (B605.7.w7)
  • Nest is constructed using dead vegetation, and is lined with fur which the female plucks from her belly. (B605.7.w7)
  • "The nest may be placed either in a short offshoot of an established warren or in a separate breeding "stop" about one metre long, so called because the doe stops up the entrance with spoil whenever she leaves." (B605.7.w7)
  • Stops are sometimes constructed and stopped up to months before being used, and may even never be used, (B605.7.w7)
  • A study conducted in Australia reported that dominant females usually bred within established warrens, whereas subordinate females tended to breed in isolated stops. The subordinate females were less successful in their breeding attempts. (B605.7.w7)
  • In areas of New Zealand where there is plenty of scrub cover, rabbits do not have warrens as they live permanently above ground, and as such all breeding takes place in isolated stops. (B605.7.w7)
  • "...extremes of temperature and lack of ground cover may force rabbits to live and breed underground in warrens." (B605.7.w7)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Notes

  • Probably originally Iberian Peninsula and north-western Africa.
  • Introduced to most of present range (see below).

(B51, B52, B142, B143, B147)

  • This species is found in the wild in western and southern Europe, with a distribution stretching through the Mediterranean region down to Morocco and northern Algeria. (B607.w20)
  • This species is found worldwide as domesticated forms. (B607.w20)
  • "...original post-Pleistocene range probably limited to S France, Iberia and NW Africa, but Late Pleistocene records occur from Ireland to Italy, Hungary, and even W Siberia." (B607.w20)
  • This species is endemic in northwestern Africa and on the Iberian peninsula. (B285.w5c)
  • "Through human agency wild populations now occur across much of Europe, in northwestern Africa, and in many other parts of the world." (B147)
  • The range of this species extends across most of western Europe, some parts of Scandinavia, and eastwards as far as Poland and southern Ukraine. (B147)
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus: central Europe. (B605.7.w7)
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi: the south of the Iberian peninsula. (B605.7.w7)
  • Western Europe and North Africa. (B605.7.w7)

Introduced:

  • Introduced to all continents except Antarctica, and to many islands.
  • >Found across western Europe, including parts of Scandinavia, eastward to Poland and southern Ukraine, also many Mediterranean islands, Azores, Canary Islands, Madeira Islands, various oceanic islands, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, San Juan Islands of Washington USA.

(B51, B52, B142, B143, B147)

  • This species has been introduced on all continents except for Antarctica and Asia. (B607.w20)

  • Introduced to Western Europe (other than Iberian peninsula where it is endemic) approximately 2,000 years ago. (B285.w5c)

  • Introduced to Australia, New Zealand, South America and some islands. (B285.w5c)

  • "Populations are present on many Mediterranean islands, the Azores, and the Canary and Madeira islands." (B147)

  • Populations found on oceanic islands were established following their release to be used as a source of food for sailors. (B147, B605.7.w7)

  • This species is thought to have been introduced to about 800 islands and island groups worldwide. (B147)

  • Introduced in some settlements for sport hunting. (B147)

  • Introduced to Chile, then crossed over into Argentina. (B147, B605.7.w7)

  • Australia and New Zealand. (B147, B605.7.w7)

  • "During the 1950s many rabbits from the population of Oryctolagus that had long been established on the San Juan Islands of Washington were transplanted to several parts of the eastern United States, apparently without lasting results." (B147)

  • Many island populations exist:

    • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus: "...from the Aleutians and islands off Alaska to Phoenix Island almost on the equator in the Pacific, and south to subantarctic Macquarie Island." (B605.7.w7)

    • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi: eastern Atlanitc and Mediterranean. (B605.7.w7)

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Conservation

Species variation

Notes

  • Some populations (on islands in Mediterranean and/or Atlantic) considered as a separate subspecies Oryctolagus cuniculus huxley (Haeckle, 1874) - smaller and paler (B143).
Currently recognised subspecies include:
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus.

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus brachyotus.

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus including Oryctolagus cuniculus fodiens; Oryctolagus cuniculus kreyenbergi; Oryctolagus cuniculus vermicula "Gray, 1843 [nomen nudum]"; Oryctolagus cuniculus vernicularis "Thompson, 1837 [nomen nudum]".

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cnossius.

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus habetensis: including Oryctolagus cuniculus oreas.

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi.

  • Unassigned: Oryctolagus cuniculus borkumensis; Oryctolagus cuniculus campestris; Oryctolagus cuniculus nigripes.

(B607.w20 - names in non-bold font are reported as synonyms for that particular subspecies)

Previously recognised subspecies include:

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus. (B605.7.w7)

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus cnossus - Crete. (B605.7.w7)

Note:

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Conservation Status

Notes

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE: 

  • Very common. (B285.w5c)
  • In Britain: native, common. Pre-breeding population estimate of about 37,500,000, with 24,500,000 in England, 9,500,000 in Scotland, 3,500,000 in Wales. Population estimate of this widely-distributed species was based on a limited amount of data and considered likely to be inaccurate by up to 50% in either direction [1995](B221).
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus huxleyi (Haeckle, 1874) may be endangered (B143, B605.7.w7).

GENERAL LEGISLATION:

UK:

CITES LISTING: --

RED-DATA LIST STATUS:

  • IUCN - Lower Risk (least concern). (W2.Apr08.w67)

THREATS: Possibly diseases such as Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease. (B221)

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS:

  • Common, pest in many places where introduced, with severe effects on native species through both habitat destruction and competition e.g. in Australia. (B143, B144, B147)
  • In the majority of areas where it has been introduced, this species is considered to be a pest. (B607.w20)
  • "On some of the smaller Pacific islands that were important nesting grounds for such birds as petrels and albatrosses the rabbits so greatly reduced the vegetation that there was scant cover for the nesting birds and erosion damaged nesting sites." (B147)
  • In Australia and New Zealand, this species has caused massive damage to vegetation and has caused severe problems for the sheep-farming industry. (B147)
  • Was carried to remote oceanic islands and released by explorers using it as a food source. (B612.8.w8)
  • Introduced to South America in the mid-18th century, and then later to Australia and New Zealand during the 19th century. (B612.8.w8)
  • Was released in North America, but wasn't able to survive in the wild, and as such wild populations were not established. (B612.8.w8)

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS:

  • "All strains of domesticated rabbit derived from this species." (B285.w5c)
  • Extensively domesticated. (B147)

TRADE AND USE:

  • Game animal. (B147)
  • Food. (B147); was frequently kept as a source of food during the two world wars. (B612.8.w8)
  • Historically used for sport hunting. (B147)
  • Kept as pets - are of considerable economic importance. (B147)
  • Became popular as a pet during the Victorian era. (B612.8.w8)
  • Domesticated form used for laboratory experiments, including research involving medicine, nutrition and genetics. (B147); rabbits were first used in experiments in 1852. (B612.8.w8)
  • Wool production. (B147)

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